Films are often indicative of the cultural and economic forces that are affecting the country in which they are made. Rarely does one so reflect a period in history as Love On The Dole, a time when optimism and innocence gave way to a newer, grimier reality.
Set in a poverty stricken suburb of Manchester in 1930, John Baxter’s adaptation of a Walter Greenwood novel plays out more like a party political broadcast than a feature film, and this reflective, bluntly conceived message became an issue for many in the time leading up to and following the film’s release. Focussing primarily on the Hardcastle family, this is a tale of blind hope as slowly the economic reality of the time begins to tear the formerly close-knit unit apart. Sally (Kerr) is a young woman full of aspiration, whose optimism for life is ebbing away while her younger brother Harry (Hibbert) innocently and naively hopes for the best, despite an inability to support his pregnant fiancé. In their lives, and in those of others, there are few happy endings. And yet hope still remains.
The gritty, impassioned performances carry Love On The Dole through what is a stark portrayal of Northern life in England between the wars. Faith in the promise of a brighter future under a Liberal Government is constantly tested amidst meagre pleasures and poverty driven frustration. Such was the controversy in a story and script of this nature that the British Board Of Film Censors saw it necessary to ban the film due to its sordid and realistic depiction of life. What then was bleak and oppressive can now be interpreted as a show of optimism and strength; the spirit of a working class with little to cling to other than their own self-imposed values.
Today Love On The Dole is an outstanding example of the films produced in a dark period of history. At the very beginning of her career Kerr is the stand out, but it is an emotional performance from an ensemble cast that elevates the film beyond the political propaganda it was at the time. More of an artful and compelling history lesson than a film? Possibly, but that in no way detracts from the importance of a piece of work that is now rightfully receiving an overdue re-release.
LOVE ON THE DOLE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JOHN BAXTER / SCREENPLAY: WALTER GREENWOOD, BARBARA K. EMARY, ROLLO GAMBLE / STARRING: DEBORAH KERR, CLIFFORD EVANS, GEORGE CARNEY, MARY MERRALL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW